Talk of fees, travel irks Interior agency’s Zinke
WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke bristled Tuesday under questioning by Democrats about his travel spending as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks deep cuts to conservation programs and fee increases at national parks.
Zinke testified before a Senate committee about the agency’s proposed $11.7 billion budget for 2019.
He has proposed doubling entry fees during peak seasons at some of the nation’s most popular national parks to help make up for an $11 billion backlog in needed maintenance.
The former Navy SEAL flashed with anger when the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking Democrat pressed him on whether he could justify increasing access fees for working Americans when he has been spending taxpayer money on chartered airplane flights. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington asked Zinke if it was a mistake for him to spend $12,375 on a late-night trip in June from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana on a private jet.
“Well, first, insults and innuendos are misleading. I never took a private jet anywhere,” Zinke said, adding that all three flights he had taken on private planes as secretary were on aircraft driven by propellers, not jet engines.
Zinke also referred to a report last week by The Associated Press that the Interior Department is spending nearly $139,000 to upgrade three sets of double doors in his office at the agency’s headquarters.
“I resent the fact of your insults, I resent the fact they’re misleading, I resent the fact of the doors,” Zinke said to Cantwell. “And I’ll go through line by line. … To allege that it’s a private jet is inappropriate, ma’am.”
The Interior Department’s inspector general is investigating Zinke’s travel and is expected to issue a report within a few weeks.